Lost tradition of making cabbage-tree hats comes alive

The popularity of the cabbage-tree hat spread throughout Australia and has been immortalised in folk song and poetry.

cabbage-tree-hat-photo-susan-brian

Photo provided by Sue Brian 2016.

The art of cabbage-tree hat-making was a thriving cottage industry in the Hawkesbury during the 1800s and early 1900s. A cabbage-tree hat was included in items held by the Police to be sold at public auction in 1841 – ‘taken from Bushrangers and other persons’ and the bushranger Ben Hall was photographed with a cabbage-tree hat supposedly about 1864/65 as it was ‘at the height of his inglorious career’.

Some of the best palms for hat-making grew in Cabbage Tree Hollow, or Fox Hollow as it was known, in the Kurrajong district and some of the most accomplished hat-makers were Fairlie Frances Pittman, Mrs Thomas McMahon, Mrs John Tierney, Mrs R. Turner, Mrs Tom Overton and Mrs Richard Ezzy. The tradition continued in later years with Ethel Overton, who married Syd Sheldon from Blaxlands Ridge.

Children would plait the sinnet on their way to and from school and they could earn good money for each hundred yards (about ninety metres) of plaiting. Families all along the Lower Hawkesbury also earned extra money making cabbage-tree hats and, depending on the quality of the workmanship, the hats could sell from £2 to £5 each which would be quite expensive in today’s money.

To prepare the bark for making the hats, the ‘hands’ of the palm trees were scalded in hot water for about ten minutes to make the leaf open out like a fan before bleaching in the cold night air. The whitened leaf was split into narrow, ribbon-like lengths, then folded and plaited into long lengths. The sides were made first and shaped onto a wooden hat block, followed by the brim, the lining, black velvet band, leather chin strap and finally the shaping of the centre over the crown. A well-made and well-stitched hat could last for up to three years.

The popularity of the cabbage-tree hat spread throughout Australia and has been immortalised in folk song and poetry. An old poem by John Barr recalls that ‘We shrink not from the iron gangs of ruthless days of cabbage-tree hat…In famous days of cabbage-tree hat, they danced in hobnailed boots and spurs, they polka’d high, with stamp and go; they kissed the girls through whiskered furze, with smacks you’d hear at Bangalow’. A folk song from 1925, ‘A bushman’s farewell to his cabbage tree hat’, eulogises ‘I trust life may close with a record as true, as that of my cabbage-tree hat’.

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Photo by Geoff Roberts, 2016.

The hat in the photograph above was made by Fairlie Frances Pittman (wife of Charles Pittman, of ‘Thorn Hill’, Hermitage Road, Kurrajong) who died in 1934 aged 89. Born and reared in Kurrajong, Fairlie was the daughter of James Charles Mostyn (Admiral Gambier) and Mary Francis. This hat was shown to members and visitors to  Colo Shire Family History Group on 16 July last year by the great-grandson of Fairlie and Charles Pittman, Don Webster and his wife Helen, during a presentation on cabbage-tree hat-making by Sue and Don Brian, collectors of folk lore and folksongs . The traditional skill of cabbage-tree hat-making is being kept alive today by Sue and Don, who have developed a passion for learning about traditional hat-making skills. If you get the chance, don’t miss one of their interesting presentations.

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Sue and Don Brian demonstrating how to separate the cabbage-tree palm leaf. Colo Shire Family History Group meeting 16 July 2016. Photo by Geoff Roberts 16 July 2016.

Just do a search for Sue and Don Brian and you will see why they are so popular as guest speakers/demonstrators at community meetings and events.

(A version of this story by Carol Roberts first appeared in Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 30 November 2016, titled ‘Hawkesbury a hat hotspot’.)

Carol Roberts   copyright

References:

Ben Hall 1837-1865, Threads of Connection, Through a Glass Darkly, http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/threads-of-connection/through-glass-darkly#data6860, accessed 13 January 2017.

Gould genealogy and history, https://www.gould.com.au/new-south-wales-government-gazette-1841/au2100-1841/, accessed 13 January 2017.

Australian Folk Songs, The Federal Capital Pioneer, ‘A bushman’s farewell to his cabbage-tree hat (1925)’, http://folkstream.com/494.html, accessed 28 November 2016.

‘Cabbage-tree hats – a lost industry’, by Will Carter, Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday, 2 November 1929, National Library of Australia Trove Newspapers, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/16598483, accessed 28 November 2016.

‘Deaths – Pittman’, Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, 26 February 1934, National Library of Australia Trove Newspapers, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/17075747, accessed 28 November 2016.

‘Legal Notices – Will of Charles Albert Pittman’, Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday, 7 May 1936, National Library of Australia Trove Newspapers, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/17341853, accessed 28 November 2016.

‘Personal – About Men and Women’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 9 March 1934, National Library of Australia Trove Newspapers, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85796015, accessed 28 November 2016.

‘History group teach how to make cabbage-tree hat’, Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 1 July 2016 (submitted by Carol Roberts).

St Stephens Church, Kurrajong, Parish Registers 1861-1902, the Family History Group, Kurrajong-Comleroy Historical Society, 2013.

 

 

 

Councillors had to guarantee to repay loan if Council defaulted: times were tough 110 years ago.

At the time, each Councillor had to sign a personal guarantee with the bank to repay the loan if Council defaulted.

50-year-luncheon-colo-shire-1(Programme courtesy Hawkesbury Local Studies Collection, Hawkesbury Central Library, Windsor, NSW.)

Almost sixty years ago, on 9 December 1957, the President of Colo Shire, Councillor Matheson, MBE, Councillors A.V. Watkins, M.A. Duffy, N.A. Powell, L.N. Smith, C.S. Ward, Shire Clerk Howard James, Deputy Shire Clerk R.A. Dasey, Shire Engineer S.F.S. Pollard and Health and Building Inspector W.R. Roach, held an official luncheon in the School of Arts at Wilberforce to celebrate the achievements of Colo Shire over a fifty year period.

Colo Shire was one of many rural areas formed under regulations contained in the Local Government Act passed in NSW in 1905. In mid-1906, Henry Wilson, Edward Bowd, Cyril Tuckerman, John Dunstan and Jonathan Gosper (who died just before Council elections) were appointed to administer a Temporary Council until elections for Councillors could be held on 24 November 1906. It was decided that Council meetings and the headquarters of the Shire would be in Wilberforce.

James Bligh Johnston was appointed returning officer for the election and parish maps were supplied to the police in Wilberforce, North Richmond and St Albans so that a list of electors could be prepared before the election. A room and printing press were rented from Mrs Lockhart, who operated a boarding house in an old inn situated almost opposite where the Council Chambers would later be built in 1910. Councillors elected for each of the three ridings were Arthur Charles Anderson and William Henry Gosper (A Riding, 214 voters), Henry Albert Wilson and Edward Thomas Bowd (B Riding, 586 voters), John Lamrock and James Edward McMahon (C Riding, 228 voters), with John Lamrock as President. Bank accounts were opened with the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, Windsor Branch, and the first loan was for 350 pounds with an interest rate of six per cent. At the time, each Councillor had to sign a personal guarantee with the bank to repay the loan if Council defaulted.

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(Photograph of first Colo Shire Council members courtesy of Hawkesbury Local Studies Collection, Hawkesbury Central Library, Windsor, NSW.)

Cecil Icely was appointed Shire Clerk and Mr A. Adams was appointed Shire Engineer. The engineer’s duties were shared fortnightly with Erina Shire and he was required to cover his own travelling costs, office rent and equipment. The area covered was huge: just over 3,100 square kilometres with eighty per cent of the area considered unrateable land, stretching from north of Putty to Castlereagh and from Mount Bell to Mount Manning, from the junction of Wollemi Creek and the Colo River to the parishes of Wollangambe, Irvine, St Albans, Wallambine and Lockyer, Mt Wilson, the Grose River, down to Yarramundi and the right banks of the Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers all the way to Wisemans Ferry Crossing. Although land was transferred to Blue Mountains City Council on more than one occasion and boundaries changed over the years, the area controlled by Colo Shire was still 2,646 square kilometres in 1960.

Colo Shire Council operated for seventy-five years until amalgamation with Windsor Municipal Council in 1981, forming Hawkesbury Shire Council. City status was then granted to Hawkesbury City Council in 1989.

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(This article first appeared in Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 23 November 2016, written by Carol Roberts for Colo Shire Family History Group Inc.)

copyrightCarol Roberts, author 2016.

[Another interesting article about the beginnings of Colo Shire Council, titled ‘Colo Shire established 110 years ago’ was recently published by Michelle Nichols, Local Studies Librarian at Hawkesbury Library, in The Hawkesbury Crier (December 2016), the newsletter of Hawkesbury Family History Group. Contact details email history@hawkesbury.nsw.gov.au.
If you interested in finding out (or joining) Colo Shire Family History Group Inc contact email colofamilyhistorygroup@gmail.com.]

References:

‘Obituary – Jonathan Gosper’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday, 3 November 1906, National Library of Australia Trove, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85665323, accessed 13 November 2016.

‘Colo Shire Election’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday, 1 December 1906, National Library of Australia Trove, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85665610, accessed 13 November 2016.

Information about Colo Shire Council from Local Studies Collection – Hawkesbury Library, Windsor, NSW.

Jan Barkley and Michelle Nichols, Hawkesbury 1794-1994: The First 200 Years of the Second Colonisation, Hawkesbury City Council, 1994.

Government Gazette No 148 of 23 December 1960, Colo Shire (as altered).

Programme from Official Luncheon, Colo Shire Council Jubilee Year, 1957, Hawkesbury Library Local Studies Collection.

 

Card clubs entertained during the Great Depression

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This photograph was taken by my uncle, Bert Hornery, of Windsor, on the occasion of the Wests Card Club’s first birthday in September 1932. My grandmother, Charlotte Hornery (nee Clarke), my mother Iris Hornery and her sister, Lily, are in centre-front row behind the children. (I have a framed, enlarged original of this photograph, left to me by my mother.)

Despite the difficulties of life during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the people of the Hawkesbury rallied together and continued their participation in social and sporting clubs. Card clubs were extremely popular and together with other social clubs, they offered friendship, entertainment and in many cases, a helping hand to those in less fortunate circumstances.

Wests Card Club in Wilberforce, formed in 1931, was renowned in the district for holding crib, euchre and dance parties. Wests also held the cup for being the best players although they were challenged by the Easts, Souths, the Cockey Boys from Ebenezer, the Don’t Worry Club in Windsor and the club in Vineyard at regular tournaments. Crowds of up to three hundred people attended Wests functions in the Wilberforce School of Arts, with ‘crowded card tables and a full orchestra’. Admission for men was two shillings and one shilling and sixpence for ladies. Festivities were led by Herb Shepherd, captain of the club, with assistance from Wes Thompson and Garney Salter, with Les Owens and Reg Turnbull acting as Masters of Ceremony.

The club’s first birthday function in September 1932 saw a record number of people participate in activities and enjoy the club’s birthday cake, which was organised by Mrs Neate of the Royal Hotel, Windsor. Flowers were presented to Mrs Neate by ‘little Shirley Owen[s]’. Due to the large number of patrons at a euchre party and dance held later in the year, players were split up and the euchre players were taken by bus to Inglebrae guest house.

Gladys Owens usually played piano for the dances, while Horrie Stevens and Ernie Keller played the cornet and violin. Bert Hornery from Windsor was the photographer at nearly all of these functions and his sister, Iris, often helped out on piano. Prizes were generous and boxes of handkerchiefs, goblets, wallets, cigarettes, socks, chocolates, handbags, cuff links and tobacco pouches were handed out to winners of card games and Monte Carlo dance competitions. Some of the Wests most successful social functions were held in 1933, with presentations to Wes Thompson on his marriage and William Thompson when he married Madge Beecroft, then 87th birthday celebrations for James (Da) Sullivan.

As the effects of the Depression took a firmer hold, members of Wests Card Club often joined with organisations such as the Upper Hawkesbury Motor Boat Club, Returned Soldiers’ League and the Merriment Sunshine Club to run functions for charity, assisting patients at the Home for Infirm and the hospital in Windsor. It was observed that ‘Wilberforce has two organisations, the Wests Card Club and the Merriment Sunshine Club, which are not merely charitable organisations, though the greater part of their proceeds are devoted to the sacred cause of charity…If anyone is sick or in distress of any kind and the fact comes under the notice of either of these bodies steps are at once taken by either or both to afford relief’.

copyright Carol Roberts

Wests Card Club Gazette.jpg

(My article on Wests Card Club first appeared in the Hawkesbury Gazette on Wednesday, 26 October 2016.)

References:

‘Challenge match in card tournament, Easts v. Wests’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 30 October 1931, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 85890291, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 29 August 2016.

‘Card Tournaments: Challenge for the Cup’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 20 November 1931, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 85888118, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 7 October 2016.

‘Wilberforce: To a packed house, crowded card tables and a full orchestra’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 30 September 1932, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 86056534, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 29 August 2016.

‘Wests Card Club’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 4 November 1932, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 86055453, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 29 August 2016.

‘In Charity’s Cause: Two Wilberforce organisations, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 27 January 1933, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 86051638, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 29 August 2016.

‘Wests Card Club: Happy social function, presentation to Will. Thompson’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 10 March 1933, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 86050413, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 13 October 2016.

‘Wilberforce: Another enjoyable euchre party and dance’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 7 April 1933, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 86055879, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 29 August 2016.

‘Wests Card Club: Presentation to Wes. Thompson, another successful function’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 9 June 1933, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 86052912, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 7 October 2016.

‘ “Da” Sullivan: Popular Wilberforce identity celebrates 87th birthday’, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday, 11 August 1933, National Library of Australia Trove News Article 86051409, http://trove.nla.gov.au, accessed 13 October 2016.

Roberts, C. ‘Top spots in darker times’, Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 26 October 2016.

Sanders, J. ‘Merriment Sunshine Club’, The Hawkesbury Crier, Newsletter of the Hawkesbury Family History Group, March 2016.